Plot and setting for a hypothetical roguelike

As mentioned in the first of these posts, one of the biggest things I’d like to experiment with in a new roguelike is the setting and plot. In particular I don’t want the plot to be a big MacGuffin hunt. Responding to that, Leonard correctly pointed out that Nethack is a MacGuffin hunt because it has no plot, and outlined some possibilities for doing something about that. In this post I’m going to outline the sort of plot I have in mind and how it might mesh with Leonard’s suggestions.

The game begins in a country not unlike that of Hope Mirrlees’ Lud-in-the-Mist. It has a geographical boundary with Faerie. At one time (within the memory of the older inhabitants) there was regular trade, but lately relations have deteriorated, with the merchant caravans being replaced by waves of … refugees. They are all what you might call little people — no cosmic powers, relatively friendly (but sometimes mischievous), and wanting to escape what they describe as wars and catastrophes. They have been received cautiously.As the game begins, these benign refugees have begun to be supplanted by hostiles. Think boggarts, redcaps, kelpies, and so on. This, in turn, attracts adventurers. At first, they’re hoping for money from the town and farmers for eliminating the menaces, but it doesn’t take long for them to think of crossing the boundary. After all, if Faerie’s all torn up by war and disaster, perhaps there are … abandoned castles! With treasure!

Naturally, your avatar is one of these adventurers. And indeed, on the other side of the boundary, there are abandoned castles, with treasure. Not to mention somewhat nastier monsters than the ones menacing our sleepy little non-magical country. However, the deeper you go (in either the overworld or the dungeons), the more messed-up things get. It appears that between war, natural disasters, and outright magical calamities, the entire of Faerie is coming to pieces. And the more powerful of the fair folk, the ones who built the castles you’ve been looting, it seems they’re all dead.

The core plot, then, is to figure out what happened and why, and maybe do something about it. I want to keep the player’s options for doing things about it as wide open as possible. Putting the landscape back just the way it was should be possible; redesigning everything to suit the player and their NPC comrades, possible; torch the entire dimension and watch the fireworks, also possible. I think I’m going to decree that you can’t resurrect the High Elves, though (this ties into my ideas for what exactly happened to start all this, which I shall hold for a separate spoiler post).

This overall scheme works well with a persistent overworld, relatively short dungeon crawls, and plot levers in the outer game, per Leonard’s recommendation. Avatar death means you-the-player get to pick up another n00b back in town. The things that were done in Faerie by qprevious avatars remain done, but the board isn’t static when the avatar is elsewhere. New monsters can move into a previously cleared out dungeon, for instance. Thus, the n00b should have no trouble finding encounters at their level.

As the plot progresses, news will spread in the non-Faerie world that interesting things are going on in this particular country. More experienced adventurers may start turning up; this allows for not having to reset quite all the way to the beginning of the experience tree when you die. Also, NPCs will appear, probably tied to bringing interesting artifacts out, and offer side quests.

I need a name for the border country.

Responses to “Plot and setting for a hypothetical roguelike”

  1. Pam

    psshh, comments, when I can just tell you….

    anyway, what I just said to you right now, so you remember:

    One of the cool things about Nethack is that the bone files are shared. If you maintain the world state, it ought to be shared between users, but it ought to also be possible for new users to begin at the beginning of the experience tree too, even with the Faerie world already having been altered. And the different players should be able to work against each other.

    I think a good name is Jimmy.

  2. papersky

    What sort of cultural flavour name? I can do Lud-in-the-Mist style names easily enough, but that might not be the kind of thing you’re thinking.

    My first thought is The Marches of /foo/, because marches are borders and in that sort of style. My next thought it you could do a lot worse than just look at lesser known Scottish placenames like Appledore, Kelsie, Morangie, Gairloch, Ullapool. But if you’re thinking non-European, you probably don’t want that sort of line at all.

    1. Zack Weinberg

      Well, I’m thinking not exclusively European, but I’m more concerned with the content of Faerie, on that score, than the border country. I have nice reference books on world mythology to mine for Faerie, but I wouldn’t know where to start if I wanted to set the rest of it in anywhere but 17th-19th century generic Europe. I suppose I could do the American Old West, but that has the wrong tone.

      Also I am not sure whether Lud-in-the-Mist names would work because, um, I haven’t finished reading the book. I’d like a Dunsany feel to the beginning, I think.

  3. ide_cyan

    Avatar death means you-the-player get to pick up another n00b back in town.

    You know, in keeping with Mirrlees’s themes, you could switch that around and have the avatar become one of the dead, one of the people of faerie who’re crossing over to our world and going on a wholly different sort of quest.

    ETA: and, if one is intent on causing trouble as such an avatar, perhaps becoming one of those pesky troublemaking creatures who’re attracting the adventurers intent on killing them, or something.

    1. Zack Weinberg

      Not having finished reading the Mirrlees book, I don’t know exactly what you’re talking about, but something like that could make a lot of sense in a multiplayer setting. Thanks!

      1. ide_cyan

        (Well, iirc, she doesn’t go into reincarnation or anything, but there’s a link between faerie and the dead.) YW!

  4. kaolinfire

    I would definitely play this and quite possibly gibble (though for the most part not by any of the apparent definitions of gibble on urban dictionary)